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Nanga Parbat: New Avalanche on Mummery Spur; Weather Hampers Rescue Effort

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Despite ample volunteers and resources ready to be deployed, weather hampered any material progress in the rescue effort to locate Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi on Nanga Parbat throughout Friday, March 1, in Pakistan. Ballard, a 30-year old British climber, and Nardi, a 42-year-old Italian climber, have been missing since Sunday, February 24, when they last made contact with Nardi’s wife.

Even before the continued waiting on Friday, though, the evening of Thursday, February 28 brought bad news. A new avalanche—helicopter sorties on Thursday had observed signs of a possible earlier avalanche—cascaded down the Mummery Spur, Ballard and Nardi’s chosen route, that evening. Below is video footage of the avalanche.

Avalanche on Mummery Spur, Nanga Parbat, February 28, 2019

On Friday in Pakistan, thick clouds kept the helicopters grounded. Had weather permitted, the plan was to helicopter the Basque climber Alex Txikon—leader of one of the two K2 expeditions currently trying to climb that mountain for the first time in winter—and three teammates to Nanga Parbat base camp, along with three high-powered drones. The hope was to scour the Mummery Spur for any sign of Ballard and Nardi, and that remains the plan for tomorrow, Saturday, March 2, weather permitting.

(The decision to employ drones may be influenced by the successful—albeit unintentionaluse of a drone to locate and aid in the rescue of a lost climber on Broad Peak in July 2018.)

Get Caught Up on the Rescue Timeline Here:
Tom Ballard and Daniel Nardi Missing on Nanga Parbat; Rescue Operation Underway
Nanga Parbat: Helicopters Search for Ballard and Nardi, Possible Signs of Avalanche

A post on Daniele Nardi’s Facebook page reported that Askari Aviation, a military-owned company in charge of helicopter flights in the Karakoram, requested additional funds before flying on Friday, as the company had exhausted Nardi and Ballard’s initial deposit. The family transferred more funds, but, the post continued, “[technicalities] in fact prevent the transfer of large sums in a few hours.” The Italian ambassador to Pakistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, stepped in and guaranteed his country’s payment for the helicopter costs after any insurance coverage.

Regardless, the weather remained too poor for flying throughout the day. Shamyl Sharaft Ali, one of those coordinating the rescue, in his case from his home in France, stressed that the flight path from K2 to Nanga Parbat was socked in with clouds all day: “The pilot would NOT have flown this weather”—even if the payment with Askari had been a non-issue—because of the “dangerous white-out conditions,” he wrote to Rock and Ice. 

Ali also noted: “Regarding Askari Aviation, it has to be kept in mind that the rules of rescue missions in Pakistan have to be followed and respected. Since Askari doesn’t deal with insurance companies, they require some form of guarantee to make sure that they get paid. This payment issue did not have any consequence on the rescue mission today.”

Any payment issues have been resolved, and while an earlier version of the Facebook post on Daniele Nardi’s page blamed Askari Aviation that the helicopters did not fly Friday, the post has been amended to show the complexity of the situation. Ali wrote, “The mission has been approved since last night [Thursday, February 28] and is on standby. The lack of flying then and right now has nothing to do with money.”